Saturday, February 26, 2011

Birthday Week Build-Up: Chicken Vindaloo

I wasn't originally going to post about this meal, because it doesn't include anything original or creative, I simply followed a recipe. But to stay true to my title, not everything can be a "munching," there ought be some "musings" as well, and this recipe led to a cute story about Will. Besides, this is a recipe that is worth passing along to anyone who already enjoys ordering Vindaloo at a restaurant.

I have a long-standing tradition of celebrating "birthday week" instead of just my birthday. I think it began from the days of having a family party on my actual birthday, and a party with friends on one of the surrounding weekend days. But like any self-respecting only child, whether or not that was the origin, I quickly learned how to milk my birthday for all the attention it is worth. Will, while also an only child, was [fortunately??] not cut from the same 'only-child-cloth' and his first exposure to such a tradition came when we were dating. He has fully embraced the pattern every October - and even endorses it - but I have never seemed able to reciprocate for his birthday. But this year I wanted to be different. He was turning 35, and we'd been joking about it for years. Now that it was here, it didn't seem as much of a joke, and full-blown birthday week was just the way to take-off the edge of aging.

We started with a terrific weekend getaway to San Diego to visit some great friends and see some sun. Always a great way to kick-off birthday week, but especially if you're a Pisces and live in the Northern hemisphere. (The trip wasn't technically part of my plans for his birthday, but I'll take my guilt by association.)

Mid-week, I wanted to him to have his favorite Indian dish: chicken Vindaloo. Since we'd eaten out most nights on our trip, I didn't want to go out again. I also wanted to put the time into making it myself. I have purchased the bottled Indian curry sauces at the market before and used them with stir frys to make fast and easy meals that have some of the flavors of India, but they are never anything like what we've had in restaurants or prepared for us by Indian friends. Curries can seem overwhelming due to long lists of ingredients with lots of measuring of spices and sometimes exotic ingredients that I don't typically have around. After reading this recipe, I felt empowered because I already had every ingredient called for. I asked Will if he wanted to help me make dinner, and while some husband's might not consider this a birthday-week-gift, for us, it really is. I usually feel he gets in my way in the kitchen, and I don't have much patience for helping him learn new things. But I have been trying - and improving - and this was a great chance for us to work together trying out one of his favorite meals.

I had him read through the whole recipe, so right away, he knew what we were making. I tried not to be disappointed when he didn't gush or exclaim "Oh goody! Vindaloo, my favorite!" and thought he would start to get excited when the pan sizzled, the curry simmered, and the sweet floral basmati wafted through the kitchen. He didn't. So, we grated ginger and garlic. We chopped potatoes and cauliflower (my only change to the recipe - I love it in curries!) We measured spices and seasonings. As we waited for the simmering to take it's full effect on our creation, I realized why I wasn't extracting more enthusiasm from him. I confronted him.
Vindaloo is your favorite dish. Why aren't you more excited that we are making this together? You're afraid that having this at home is supposed to 'quench' your craving for Vindaloo, and you're worried this isn't going to be anything like what you having in your taste memory of 'Vindaloo.' And then you're going to be stuck because you have to tell me you like it - and you might actually like it - but you won't be liking it as a replacement for Vindaloo.
He admitted that this was exactly right. He was interested to try what we were preparing and was confident it would be tasty, but knew it would be no replacement for 'real' Vindaloo.

As we sat down to eat, I had a second inspiration; I turned on Pandora and quickly found a pre-made channel for Contemporary Bollywood. I honestly think that made the food taste even better, although it really was quite a yummy curry.

When Will had the leftovers the following night, he cautiously disclosed that this might be one of the best things I've made. I reminded him we made it together, and that makes it taste best of all.

Chicken Vindaloo
1 large onion, halved and cut in wedges
4 roma tomatoes, quartered (I used canned)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1/2 inch peeled fresh ginger root, sliced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 serrano chili, or to taste

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
chicken pieces (or tofu, or just more vegetables)
2 medium yukon gold potatoes, peeled, cut into bite-sized dice
1/2 small head of cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
1-2 cups chicken broth (or vegetable)
splash of cream

Process first 12 ingredients in food processor until thick paste. In large saute pan, brown chicken in oil, then cut into bite-sized pieces. Add potatoes and cauliflower to pan along with curry paste and enough broth to cover vegetables. Cover pan and cook on medium until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 10 minutes. Remove lid and simmer until sauce is of desired thickness. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of cream for richness and heat through. Serve over rice (recipe below.)

Basmati Rice
serves 4
3/4 cup basmati rice
1 1/2 cups water
3 threads saffron
2 whole cardamom pods
1/4 cup green peas (I used frozen, rinsed but still frozen)

Add first 4 ingredients to rice cooker (or saucepan.) With about 5 minutes remaining to cook, stir in peas. Finish cooking, then fluff and serve with curry atop.

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